Fire Sprinklers and Building Insurance

On March 7, 2007 the Planters Hotel in Brawley, CA (pictured above) burned down.
P. Allen Early, the building owner, filed a claim with his insurance carrier for the $3.1 Million loss.
Although fire investigators ruled that the fire was an act of arson, Early faced a problem:
The hotel's fire sprinkler system was shut off when the fire occurred. Documents presented in court indicated that the fire sprinkler system was discovered shut off the day before the fire by the local Fire Department during a routine inspection.
Early's insurance carrier, the Chubb Custom Insurance Company, originally denied the claim for fire loss because of the shut down fire sprinkler system.
"There was an insurance policy issued by Chubb Custom Insurance Company that had a provision that required the insured to maintain the sprinkler system in complete working order. At the time of the fire the sprinkler system was turned off, and it is Chubb's position that a minimum, maintaining it in complete working order means having it turned on, otherwise there's no way it can work and it accomplishes nothing. The policy says it is the insured's responsibility to maintain in in complete working order, and whether or not he knew it was turned off, he was the one in control of the situation," explained the insurance company's attorney.
The two sides later settled after a lengthy legal battle, but this unfortunate incident should be a lesson we can all learn from. Let's look at how this could have been prevented:
1. Fire protection systems, including fire alram and fire sprinkler should always be on in operating condition. The International Fire Code, adopted in most states and localities, requires owners of fire protection systems to notify the local Fire Department of any impairment.
2. The Fire Department found this system shut off the day before the fire and testimony indicated that the Fire Chief intended to take legal action against the owner the following business day. Perhaps if the Fire Department would have taken immediate action when the impairment was discovered, the building would not have been lost in the fire.
3. The owner indicated that he had no knowledge of the sprinkler control valve being turned off. Yet, the Building and Life Safety Codes clearly indicate that owners of fire protection systems are responsible for maintaining them in operating condition. NFPA 25, which regulates maintenance of fire sprinkler systems, requires valves controlling fire sprinkler systems to be inspected weekly to verify they are open. The owner was apparently not performing this task.
Owners of fire protection systems have both legal and contractual obligations to maintain their fire sprinkler systems. Failure to do so could result in serious financial and legal penalties, from loss of insurance coverage to negligent wrongful death or injury claims if someone is injured.
A qualified fire protection contractor can assist the owner in meeting obligations through discussing the required maintenance and inspections and determining which items the owner can self-perform and which items the contractor can perform.
Cherokee Fire Protection Co. serves clients throughout Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan. We work with clients to develop maintenance plans suitable for their systems which meet legal requirements and reduce overall risk for the systems owner.
For further information, please contact Forest Wilson, Vice President of Cherokee Fire at 937-376-2333 or email:

Sprinklerfitter or Technician?

Al Schwartz, writing for the July 2010 issue of Contractor magazine, laments over the increasingly common use of the word "technician" in lieu of "plumber."

Those of us in the fire sprinkler industry have also seen this trend as more unqualified people enter this trade. Sprinklerfitting has been a specialty trade since the invention of fire sprinklers. As early as 1905, there were trade unions established to ensure training of apprentices and a qualified work force.

Cherokee Fire Protection belongs to the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and is signatory with the United Association of Pipefitters and Sprinklerfitters Local 669. Since 1915, these organizations have worked in unison to improve the industry through development of codes, labor relations and apprenticeship training.

In order to become a journeyman sprinklerfitter, a person must apply to the Apprenticeship Board for admission as an Apprentice. The Board requires applicant be of good character, in possession of a high school diploma or GED, and be honorably discharged from the military if having served.

Upon admission into the apprenticeship program, the applicant receives On The Job (OTJ) training in the sprinklerfitting industry. This includes installing and servicing fire sprinkler systems of various types such as wet, dry, preaction and rate of rise. In addition to the OTJ training, the apprentice must also complete correspondence courses with Penn State University pertaining to the Sprinklerfitting Industry.

Weekends are sometimes spent in a classroom taking such hands-on courses as OSHA training, trenching, rigging or product demonstrations.

Prior to admission as an apprentice, and throughout his career, sprinklerfitters must pass a drug test and oftentimes a background check. The Apprenticeship Board also reviews the apprentice's progress at least every 6 months.

After 5 years of full compliance with the training standards of the Apprenticeship Board, the Apprentice is awarded his Journeyman Card. This Card can be presented to any contractor in the country as evidence of his qualifications to work on fire sprinkler systems.

Contrast these training standards with those of a "technician." Technicians are usually employed by fire extinguisher service companies or plumbing contractors entering the sprinkler industry. Many of these companies completely lack the expertise in engineering and manpower capabilities to install a fire sprinkler system. Yet, they often offer their services to inspect and service fire sprinkler systems.

A fire sprinkler inspector or technician usually receives between 16 to 40 hours of documented, accredited training. Contrast that with the 1700 hours an apprentice receives annually.
A fire sprinkler technician may have been a tire salesman a week before his new job as a "fire sprinkler inspector" or technician. Many have a background in the fire extinguisher sales business, which is largely a commission-based business in which extinguisher technicians are rewarded for selling extinguisher's and accessories to the building owner.

Many extinguisher companies will advertise that they can "Do It All."

A fire extinguisher technician will earn between $8 - $10 before commissions, with no benefits. A union sprinklerfitter earns nearly $34 an hour with union benefits. Sprinklerfitters are not paid on commission. They are paid to get the job done, the building inspected and the repairs made right the first time.

Building owners should insist on a union Sprinklerfitter to perform their inspections, repairs and maintenance. A technician will only cost them more money in the long term through faulty, inadequate inspections, substandard repair work and potential system failure.

Qualified companies can be found at: and

For additional information, feel free to call me: Forest Wilson 937-376-2333